Over the years, there have been a number of people who've made an impression on me with regard to food. One of them is my old boss, close friend and head brewer at Great Divide Brewing, Taylor Rees. Back in the day, he'd painfully watch me throw away my hard-earned money on mediocre takeout food and beg me to cook for myself, if only for the sake of economy. I'd stubbornly argue that given the massive portions of food we're served in this country, I could stretch one tub of it into two or three meals, thus justifying the expense. It wasn't until I actually started feeding myself that I realized how wrong I was, and I'm forever thankful to Taylor for his persistence.
We'd made plans to hang out the other afternoon, and I wanted to cook something for the occasion, a fitting token of my appreciation. Before I could make it to the store, however, I got an e-mail from Taylor: "Duder, I have a whole bag of produce from the winter share of my CSA, if you'd rather use that and save money. FYI: The produce I have consists of leeks, onions, some garlic, and some winter squash."
Taylor wisely joined the Community Supported Agriculture program at Monroe Organic Farms earlier this year, and has since become even more of a food advocate. His list inspired me to make stuffed squash with chorizo, rice and fresh herbs. I absolutely love stuffing vegetables, because the possibilities are endless. Like my boy Mark Bittman says, "There's something not only satisfying but lovable about stuffed vegetables, which look appealing no matter what you use for filling. They're also a good opportunity to experiment..."
I biked over to Mr. B's Wine and Spirits and picked up a sixer of Fort Collins Brewing's Rocky Mountain IPA. I'd yet to try it, but it's one of my favorite breweries of late, and I figured a balanced, hoppy ale would drink nicely alongside a filling fall dish.
While the squash baked in the oven, Taylor and I talked beers, and, as usual, we had a few too many. Luckily, our blurry state of mind was counteracted by the warm, substantial meal, which went perfectly with the beer. The steamy, stuffed squash was wonderfully sobering in its blend of sweet, savory and spicy flavors, and conveniently served as its own bowl; the very balanced, quaffable IPA lent a refreshing brightness to the dish with its citrusy hops. Honestly, it was one of the best dishes I've made, and the fact that it was almost entirely locally sourced made it even better.
It never ceases to amaze me how much better food and beer taste the less distance they travel. Though difficult to quantify why, I truly believe it's because unprocessed, cared-for products of nature do more than nourish the body -- they satisfy the soul. Not to mention, life is far more interesting when you have to adapt to it.
"I love being part of a CSA," declared Taylor, as we cracked open more beers. "It's such a fun challenge -- stuff just shows up. You have to cook based on what you get, not what you want."
So to those who have become all too used to the so-called benefits of technology and are content eating and drinking chemically altered substitutions of whatever you want, whenever you want it, I implore you to start cooking for yourself. In witnessing first-hand what goes into your body, you will know true pleasure, as I have, and you'll save more money and years of your life than you could ever imagine.
Here's the recipe (a variation from Mark Bittman's Food Matters):
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2 winter squash cut in half, seeds removed 1 pound chorizo 1 onion, chopped 1 leek, chopped 3 cloves garlic 2 cups cooked rice 1 teaspoon fresh rosemary 1 teaspoon fresh thyme (in this case, from Taylor's garden) Olive oil Salt and pepper
1. Preheat oven to 375 degrees. 2. Place squash in a baking dish, rub each half with olive oil, and sprinkle with salt. 3. Bake for 30 to 40 minutes, or until soft. Remove and set aside. 4. While squash cooks, heat a little olive oil in a large skillet, add chorizo and cook over medium heat for about 10 minutes, or until it starts to brown. 5. Remove chorizo. Add onion, leek, garlic and saute, until onions are soft and translucent, scrapping any brown bits with a wooden spoon. 6. Add chorizo, and cook until done. 7. In a large mixing bowl, combine chorizo/onion/leek mixture, rice, rosemary and thyme, and stir. Season with salt and pepper to taste. 8. Stuff the center of the squash halves with the chorizo mixture and sprinkle a pinch of salt over each. 9. Bake at 375 degrees for another 15 to 20 minutes, or until the edges begin to brown.